The Red Rock Trail offers not only an enjoyable two- to three-hour ride, but also some of the best swimming holes on the river. This loop can be ridden in either direction. At the midpoint you’ll find Gibraltar Dam and near the top of it a picnic area and a large board with interpretive information regarding the dam.
From Lower Oso picnic area, continue up the Santa Ynez River five miles to a large open parking area. From here you can ride either up the river or on a dirt road which proceeds uphill beyond a locked gate.
Expectations for Riding the Santa Barbara Area Trails
Country trails are multi-use trails and as such are used by several thousand users each week. If you are riding downhill on these trails, expect to encounter them on your way. Your cooperation will help make everyone's experience a safe and pleasant one.
Ten things every mountain biker who rides the front country trails is expected to do:
Though this area has one of the largest concentrations of swimmers, sunbathers, picnickers, fishermen, and mountain bikers, I fall in love with it every time I ride it, which is fairly often.
There are two choices—the low road or the high road. The low road goes up the riverbed for a half-mile to Red Rock, one of the most exquisite combinations of rock and emerald-green water anywhere.
But be aware—almost every year a careless swimmer is injured seriously here—mostly the daredevils who dive head-first into the water. While the water is deep in most places, in other places it is extremely shallow due to a number of large rocks hidden just below the surface.
Beyond Red Rock the road crosses the river and continues along a wide riverbed. Contorted layers of rock on the north side of the river show the extreme pressures which the shale must have undergone. Underfoot, if you look carefully, you can still find pieces of the red-brick quicksilver kilns. Beyond this you’ll find more pools as the road meanders back and forth across the river and through sycamore, cottonwood, and willow groves, meadows, and groves of live oak for several miles to Gibraltar Dam.
Depending on the time of year, stream crossings may be wet or dry, and often spring floods litter the road with cobblestones. But despite this, riding up the Santa Ynez River through this section is a pleasurable experience. Wear tennis shoes you don’t mind getting wet and carry extra socks to put on afterward, and the ride will be even more enjoyable. Be cautious if the river is high. Stream crossings can be treacherous when you’re trying to carry a bike on your shoulders.
The down side of riding the loop in this direction is that you’ve got a very steep half-mile climb to get up on the bench that takes you back to your car. The good news is that once you get up this hill the next 2.5 miles are almost all downhill. About a mile along the downhill section, look for a trail which leads down through a saddle (the road turns to the right here). This is a little shorter and provides a last bit of single track.
If you decide to take the high road on the way in, the dirt road is at the backside of the parking area. It is pretty obvious, and beyond the locked gate it climbs steadily through a series of switchbacks for a mile up onto a wide, open bench. The climb from here is gradual, leading to a high point from which you can see Gibraltar Dam. Then, hold onto your helmet for the next half-mile. You’ve got a big downhill ahead of you.
At the bottom, a short (but very steep) uphill leads to the top of the dam. The single-track trail back to Red Rock starts on the left side of the river. The first pools are about a half-mile downstream.